We have a role to play in seeing the Kingdom fully come:
This piece on the Second Coming of Christ is a sort of follow-on from two previous articles. A few months ago I wrote about the notion of hastening the Lord’s return. Are there things we can do that will either hinder or hasten his return? Some verses seem to suggest that we do have an impact on all this. As I said in my closing paragraph:
From all this we can say at least two things with some degree of certainty: One, the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human choices will always be all rather mysterious. But Two, less mysterious is the truth that our way of living is somehow connected to the Lord’s return. That should surely spur us on to a life of godliness and holiness. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/02/06/on-hastening-his-return/
And just yesterday I penned a piece featuring a number of great quotes from the new book by John Piper: Come Lord Jesus. The last quote of his that I featured included a brief quote from a noted New Testament scholar. The quote was this:
“If we love the Lord’s appearing, we will love the advance of his mission toward completion. We will take heart from his promise that the gospel will be preached to all nations, that is, all the people groups (‘tribe, language, people, nation’), and we will embrace his command to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matt. 28:19). We will seek to share the urgency and clarity of Ladd’s exhortation: ‘So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission’.”
Piper is referring to George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), and his important 1959 volume, The Gospel of the Kingdom. He inspired me to go and grab my copy, although sadly it took me around 40 minutes to finally discover where I had it shelved! But it was worth the lengthy hunt.
The last chapter of Ladd’s book where this quote comes from is a gem indeed, and is well-worth drawing to your attention. I will quote from that chapter in a moment, but let me offer two earlier quotes of his where he offers us some definitions. He reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both present and future, and says this:
The Kingdom is a present reality (Matt. 12: 28), and yet it is a future blessing (I Cor. 15: 50). It is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing (Rom. 14: 17) which can be experienced only by way of the new birth (John 3: 3), and yet it will have to do with the government of the nations of the world (Rev. 11: 15). The Kingdom is a realm into which men enter now (Matt. 21: 31), and yet it is a realm into which they will enter tomorrow (Matt. 8: 11). It is at the same time a gift of God which will be bestowed by God in the future (Luke 12: 32) and yet which must be received in the present (Mark 10: 15). Obviously no simple explanation can do justice to such a rich but diverse variety of teaching. p. 18
The Kingdom of God is, then, the realization of God’s will and the enjoyment of the accompanying blessings. However, it is a clear teaching of the New Testament that God’s will is not to be perfectly realized in this age. Central in Biblical Theology is the doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. . . . The Bible conceives of the entire sweep of human history as resting in the hand of God, but it looks for the final realization of God’s Kingdom in a realm “beyond history,” i,e., in a new and different order of existence. p. 24
His ninth and final chapter is titled, “When Will the Kingdom Come?” Here we find so much optimism and encouraging words (and for those who might be wondering, he is not a postmillenialist, but a non-dispensational premillenialist). Let me offer some quotes from it.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement of what God has done and will do. It is His victory over His enemies. It is the Good News that Christ is coming again to destroy for ever His enemies. It is a gospel of hope. It is also the Good News of what God has already done. He has already broken the power of death, defeated Satan, and overthrown the rule of sin. The Gospel is one of promise but also of experience, and the promise is grounded in experience. What Christ has done guarantees what He will do. This is the Gospel which we must take into all the world. p. 130
Ladd reminds us that the ultimate meaning between the advents is sharing the Gospel worldwide. This is how God’s redemptive purpose is carried forward. “This is a staggering fact. God has entrusted to people like us, redeemed sinners, the responsibility of carrying out the divine purpose in history.” p. 134
And based on the word of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 (“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”), we have in one sense the divine timeline: “When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again.” p. 135
But some will say that this is an impossible task, with so many closed doors. Ladd replies:
Such an attitude fails to reckon with God. It is true that many doors are closed at the moment; but God is able to open closed doors overnight, and God is able to work behind closed doors. Remember Abyssinia! My concern is not with closed doors; my concern is with the doors that are open which we do not enter. If God’s people were really faithful and were doing everything possible to finish the task, God would see to it that the doors were opened. Our responsibility is the many doors standing wide open which we are not entering. We are a disobedient people. We argue about the definition of world-wide evangelization and we debate the details of eschatology, while we neglect the command of the Word of God to evangelize the world. p. 136
I conclude with his final paragraphs:
This must be the spirit of our mission in This evil Age. We are not rosy optimists, expecting the Gospel to conquer the world and establish the Kingdom of God. Neither are we despairing pessimists who feel that our task is hopeless in the face of the evil of This Age. We are realists, Biblical realists, who recognize the terrible power of evil and yet who go forth in a mission of worldwide evangelization to win victories for God’s Kingdom until Christ returns in glory to accomplish the last and greatest victory…
Do you love the Lord’s appearing? Then you will bend every effort to take the Gospel into all the world. It troubles me in the light of the clear teaching of God’s Word, in the light of our Lord’s explicit definition of our task in the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) that we take it so lightly. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is the Good News of the Kingdom. Christ has wrested authority from Satan. The Kingdom of God has attacked the kingdom of Satan; This evil Age has been assaulted by The Age to Come in the person of Christ. All authority is now His. He will not display this authority in its final glorious victory until He comes again; but the authority is now His. Satan is defeated and bound; death is conquered; sin is broken. All authority is His. “Go ye therefore.” Wherefore? Because all authority, all power is His, and because He is waiting until we have finished our task. His is the Kingdom; He reigns in heaven, and He manifests His reign on earth in and through His Church. When we have accomplished our mission, He will return and establish His Kingdom in glory. To us it is given not only to wait for but also to hasten the coming of the day of God (II Pet. 3: 12). This is the mission of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and this is our mission. pp. 139-140
Stirring words indeed. This brief volume is not a dry academic exercise, but a collection of wise biblical and theological insights combined with passion to see God’s people fulfil the Great Commission.